Education , Law & Principles

Ray Carter | September 8, 2022

Transgender bathroom issue extends beyond urban core

Ray Carter

Recent controversies regarding males accessing girls’ bathrooms (and vice versa) in public schools have largely centered on the transgender bathroom policies of urban districts or schools in university towns.

But the issue has now cropped up far from Oklahoma’s urban core.

That fact was highlighted in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Oklahoma Foundation (ACLU-OK), and Lambda Legal challenging an Oklahoma law that restricts school bathroom access based on sex.

One of three students represented in the lawsuit, Andrew Bridge, attends school in the Noble district, identifies as transgender, and prefers to use the boys’ bathroom although the student was born female.

The lawsuit said that Bridge “consistently used the boys’ restrooms at school for the entire 2021–2022 school year with the knowledge and support of school administration” in the Noble district.

The lawsuit also stated that Bridge’s name was changed on school records and “teachers were informed” that Bridge “uses male pronouns.”

Under Senate Bill 615, which became law this year, all public schools “shall require every multiple occupancy restroom or changing area” to be designated for the “exclusive use of the male sex” or “exclusive use of the female sex,” with access based on the sex listed on a child’s birth certificate. (School districts already maintain copies of students’ birth certificates.)

Should an individual not wish to use the bathroom designated for his or her sex, the legislation requires that public schools “shall provide a reasonable accommodation” by granting those individuals “access to a single-occupancy restroom or changing room.”

Schools that fail to comply could lose 5 percent of their state funding, and parents have a legal cause of action against districts for noncompliance.

The ACLU lawsuit claims that SB 615 “discriminates on its face against students who are transgender” and violates the equal-protection provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which barred discrimination based on sex.

School districts named in the suit include Moore, Noble, Oklahoma City, and Independence Charter Middle School, which operates in Oklahoma City through a charter agreement with the Oklahoma City district.

According to records from the Oklahoma State Department of Education, the Noble school district had an enrollment of 2,972 in the 2021-2022 school year. In comparison, the Oklahoma City district had 32,086 students and Moore had 24,515.

The Stillwater district, which became a focal point in the debate over school bathroom policies this year, had 5,994 students.

Of the three students represented in the lawsuit, only Bridge was identified by the student’s actual name. The other two students were identified by pseudonyms.

One of the pseudonymous students attends Moore, identifies as transgender, and claims SB 615 prevents the student from using the boys’ restrooms at school.

The other pseudonymous student identifies as transgender and says SB 615 prevents the student’s use of the girl’s bathroom at Independence Charter Middle School in Oklahoma City.

The lawsuit said the Moore student, a female who identifies as a transgender male, “began using the boys’ restroom at the start of the 2021-2022 school year.” Despite Moore’s current bathroom policy, which complies with SB 615, the lawsuit said the student “has continued to use the boys’ restroom at school.”

The lawsuit also states that the student who attends Independence Charter Middle School, a male who identifies as a transgender female, chose to attend the school because school officials said the youth “would be able to use the multiple occupancy girls’ restrooms,” which the lawsuit said made the student “very excited.” The school later changed its bathroom policy to align with SB 615 and provided the student access to a single-occupancy restroom.

The lawsuit states that an individual’s feelings about gender should be prioritized over biological factors.

“Every individual’s sex is multifaceted and comprised of many distinct biologically influenced characteristics, including, but not limited to, chromosomal makeup, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, secondary sex characteristics, and gender identity. Where there is a divergence between these characteristics, gender identity is the most important and determinative factor. Therefore, someone’s sex or gender is properly understood to be the same as their gender identity.”

The lawsuit claimed that treatment for transgender youth requires that a girl who identifies as a boy must “be recognized as a boy and treated the same as all other boys by those in their lives, including family members, friends, educators, peers, and others in the community, as well as by government agencies and officials and private entities” or else the individual “may experience significant harm.”

The lawsuit makes similar claims for boys who identify as females.

The lawsuit also touts the use of puberty-delaying treatments on such youth and the use of hormone therapy for such youth upon entering puberty, saying that process “replaces the individual’s endogenous hormones with gender identity congruent hormones.”

The ACLU lawsuit claims that “many students who are transgender attend school without classmates and peers knowing they are transgender.”

“When excluded from the multiple occupancy restrooms, students who are transgender often avoid using the restroom entirely,” the lawsuit stated. “This may be because using single-occupancy restrooms would reveal that they are transgender to others, is stigmatizing, or is impractical to use given how far the single-occupancy restroom may be from a student’s classes or for other reasons.”

However, even though the lawsuit suggests use of single-occupant bathrooms is unusual in the school setting, the complaint also states that the student from Independence Charter Middle School often “has to wait for others to use the restroom.”

The lawsuit claims that requiring transgender students to use single-occupancy bathrooms or bathrooms that align with their sex will cause those students to experience “anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and self-harm,” but that “there is no evidence that allowing boys and girls who are transgender to use the same restrooms as their cisgender counterparts causes any harm to cisgender students.”

(“Cisgender” students are individuals who identify as their sex, such as males who identify as males.)

While the ACLU lawsuit claims no harm comes from allowing boys to use girls’ bathrooms, parents in the Stillwater district reported that girls in that school system experienced anxiety and distress as a result of the district’s policy allowing boys to use the girls’ bathroom, and that some girls declined to use the bathroom during the school day.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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